Mexican student musicians shine at the festival

By Frank Thoms

There she was in the Ángela Peralta. On stage, on the floor, on her back, under an oriental carpet, playing the flute. Aida Padilla hooked me into paying attention to the Mexican student musicians at this year’s 35th annual International Chamber Music Festival. Just before I saw her, I paused in the lobby to listen to Diego Arias, Miguel Ángel, and Eduardo Rodríguez play their three guitars with energy, crispness and aplomb. By the end of their two weeks in San Miguel de Allende, I was fortunate to have attended several student concerts held at the Ángela Peralta, Camino Silvestre, Hotel Imperio de Ángeles, Agave/Sotheby’s International, and Hotel Matilda. Such energy, such commitment, such delight!

On that first afternoon, Aida was joined by her fellow musicians in a farcical play on music and Mexican life, all designed to help them bond. Bond they did. In the next hour they made us laugh with brushing teeth, mock piano playing, a human cello and moving chairs (yes, that was funny!). Their show culminated in a parody of a Mozart string quartet with flute. After strolling in arrogantly and sitting down, the players introduced the piece using the haughty voices of Charlie Brown’s parents. They began to play skillfully before they were interrupted by other students wearing masks who morphed the music into rock-and-roll and pulled the audience out of their seats to dance.

For the rest of the two weeks, they took classes for two hours each day, had coaching lessons from visiting dignitaries, and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed––and then played free concerts for any who would listen. Indeed, for a person with a limited musical background, hearing these young Mexicans play their violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, guitars and piano lifted my spirits and taught me a lot.

Dante Puente, who stayed at our home, emerged as a leader. He played an energetic clarinet in a Brahms trio with two Monterrey colleagues, Sandra Rojas, an exceptional cellist, and Alberto Huerta, a gentle pianist. I heard them play this piece in two venues and wish I’d heard it again. I was fortunate, however, to hear Sandra play twice more. In both instances she showed composure and concentration. Alberto joined Dante and Luis Cantu in a clarinet trio of an adapted work of Beethoven. He also had the privilege to turn pages for Jamie Parker, pianist for the Gryphon Trio, which he did with attention and precision.

Luis is also a composer and wrote a piece with his twin brother, Carlos, in which Luis played the piano, Carlos the cello, and their friend Valencia Acosta the violin. A remarkable piece that blended classical themes with modern touches––and they’re only 19! Valeria later played an exquisite duet by Bériot with José Alvarez on piano. Álvarez, a large and gentle young man, previously played a vigorous Daniel Diaz Esparto piece.

These were only some of the combinations that graced our city these past two weeks. Each performance showed skill, flair and heart. I observed their sense of joy as they played music already at a high level, of making the notes of composers their own. I was fortunate to see these young people on stage, to mingle with them in the streets, to be with them at Vivoli, and to see them at this year’s exceptional concert series in the Peralta’s sky balcony, clapping in unison for encores. These two weeks let me know that at least in this microcosm of the world everything is fine.

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